Port Angeles School Board tables new transgender policy amid loud outcry

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School Board delayed a decision on a transgender student policy, which is required by the state, after hearing protests from an overflow crowd last week.

The board voted unanimously Thursday night to table the proposed policy and turn it over to the district's policy committee to create a procedure on how to implement the state's requirement for transgender policy in a way that satisfies all parties' needs for privacy and safety.

“We want to get procedure in place before we vote on the policy [to see] how it actually is going to look,” Sarah Methner, the board member who moved for the referral to the committee, said later.

The committee, which includes School Board member Lonnie Linn as well as community and staff members, also will be asked to consider adding transgender aspects to the district's existing discrimination policy instead of creating a stand-alone policy, the board said.

No timeline was approved for consideration of the procedures and policy.

Required statewide

Passage of a policy protecting transgender students from discrimination is required of all public school districts by the state Office of Superintendent of Instruction, as directed by state law enacted in 2010.

All districts in the state are required to implement a policy that complies with state law by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

Opponents told the board that the policy represents unacceptable mandates and that the board should refuse to enact it.

“The board is being held hostage by the federal government by a mandate that is wrong,” said Darryl Wood of Port Angeles.

Wood said the transgender law is “against our culture and accelerates the war against the middle class.”

He was one of 15 who spoke against district approval of a transgender policy, while more than 40 people filled seats and spilled out into the hallway as they cheered and applauded opposition speakers.

Three spoke in favor of a policy.

“You're talking about my child,” said Angie River of Port Angeles.

River was in tears as she said that her child “is harassed and made fun of every day" because of the child's clothing choices.

Board President Steve Baxter said that for every person at the meeting, board members and the district office received 10 or 20 emails and phone calls on the issue.

State guidelines

In its 2012 guidelines for public school districts to implement state laws against discrimination, the state Office of Superintendent of Instruction says transgender students have the right to be addressed by the name and pronoun of their choice, to dress as the gender of their choice and to use the restroom consistent with their gender identities.

The guidelines also say that any student who wants increased privacy, including those uncomfortable sharing a restroom with transgender students, should be provided an alternative.

Transgender students should be allowed to participate in physical education and athletics “in a manner consistent with their gender identity,” the state said.

The use of locker rooms by transgender students “should be assessed on a case-by-case basis” to maximize social integration, ensure the student's safety and minimize stigmatization.

“In most cases transgender students should have access to the locker room that corresponds to their gender identity consistently asserted at school,” the guidelines say, adding that alternative changing areas should be provided for those who have a desire for more privacy.

The guidelines also encourage gender-non-specific dress codes.

Locker rooms

Several speakers said they feared the policy would allow boys to say they are transgender just to get access to the girls' locker rooms. Some said they feared increased rape.

“This mandate increases the risk of sexual abuse,” said Terry Trudel of Port Angeles.

River said her child deserves to feel safe at school and told the crowd that transgender children are no more likely to rape, look over bathroom stall walls or “ogle” other children than other people.

“A transgender person is more likely to be the victim,” she said.

Opponents also said they don't want to have to explain to their young children the concept of transgender students.

“In my household, I don't teach my children that they have to adjust to someone else's problem,” said Richard Coulson of Port Angeles.

Speakers also opposed acknowledging transgender concepts in law.

“Feelings are valid, but when a policy is based on feelings, that is wrong. Feelings don't trump anatomy. Gender identity is not more important than gender anatomy,” said Christine Stevenson of Port Angeles.

Several told the board that passage of the policy would lead to lawsuits against the district and against the board members as individuals, and said they would rally against a high school construction bond the district hopes to put before voters.

Linn said he had intended to abstain if a vote had been taken on the policy.

“It's the worst feeling. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't,” Linn said.

Linn said that if he voted against the policy, he would be in breach of his oath of office to uphold state law but is also bound by personal beliefs that make a vote for the policy difficult.

“I would like to bring some of you to the policy committee to help write the policy — other than the ones who threatened me,” he said.

A sign-up sheet to work with the policy committee was offered

Linn said the board has no choice.

“If we want to keep getting state money, we have to follow the law,” he said.

The board also addressed opponents' concerns that boys could play on girls' sports teams.

Board: No choice

The state board that governs high school sport, Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, already has a policy in place that allows transgender students to play on the team that matches their gender identity, and the decision is not up to local schools, said board member Patti Happe.

The policy under consideration by the School Board referred to “an inclusive approach toward transgender students. . . . This policy and its procedure will support that effort by facilitating district compliance with local, state and federal laws concerning harassment, intimidation, bullying and discrimination.”

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.



Managing Editor/News Leah Leach contributed to this report.

Last modified: June 12. 2014 8:28PM
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